1. THE FLU IS WORSE THAN THE COMMON COLD
Flu illness is more dangerous than the common cold for children. Each year thousands of children are hospitalized, and some children die, from flu. Complications from flu include things like pneumonia, dehydration, brain dysfunction (encephalopathy), sinus and ear infections, worsening of existing asthma or cardiac disease, and sometimes death. These complications are more common in young children, especially those less than 5 years old.
Since 2004, pediatric flu deaths reported to the CDC each year has ranged from 37-185 deaths, the highest being last season (2017-18). However, the actual number of flu deaths is likely higher that what is reported.
2. THE VACCINE WORKS
Vaccination is the best protection against flu. It is recommended that your child(ren) get a seasonal flu vaccine each year, preferably by the end of October, however later is still better than not receiving the vaccine at all.
Each year the vaccine components are updated. This season the trivalent injectable vaccine includes two types of Influenza A (H1N1 and H3N2) and one type of Influenza B (Victoria lineage) components, because these are expected to be the most prevalent and/or severe strains in the community.
In addition to injectable vaccine, there is also a nasal spray vaccine, however it is not recommended for children in most circumstances, thus you should discuss with your child’s pediatrician if you have any questions about this version of flu vaccine.
Your child(ren) should develop protecting antibodies against flu about two weeks after receiving the vaccine. Remember, that children less than 8 years old who are receiving the vaccine for the first time require two doses separated by one month, so their full protection is slightly delayed.
While vaccine effectiveness can vary, studies have shown the vaccine reduces the risk of flu illness by 40-60% in most seasons. In addition, the flu vaccine has been shown to reduce flu-associated death by 65% among healthy children and 51% in children with underlying high-risk conditions. Of the pediatric flu-related deaths from 2010-14, only 26% of these children were vaccinated.
"... the flu vaccine has been shown to reduce flu-associated death by 65% among healthy children..."
It is possible to get sick with flu even if you have been vaccinated. This may occur if you are exposed within the first two weeks after getting vaccinated, or if you are exposed to a flu virus that is not included in the vaccine. Unfortunately, some people can become infected by a flu virus the vaccine was designed to protect against. In these people there is a reduced risk of ICU admission, shorter ICU length of stay, shorter duration of hospitalization, and lower rate of death, since they were vaccinated.
3. THE VACCINE IS SAFE
Hundreds of millions of Americans have safely received the flu vaccine over the last 50 years and there has been extensive research supporting the safety of the flu vaccines. You can’t actually contract flu from the vaccine because the components are inactivated or attenuated.
However, you can experience some mild side effects, including soreness or swelling at the injection site, headache, low-grade fever, nausea, and/or muscle aches, all of which quickly self-resolve.
There may be a possible small association of the flu vaccine with Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) – approximately 1-2 per 1 million people vaccinated. Interestingly, GBS is more common after flu illness than the flu vaccine.
Almost anyone can now receive the flu vaccine. Only those children who have experienced anaphylaxis to the vaccine, or a vaccine component, should not receive the vaccine. Children with egg-allergy can now receive the flu vaccine safely. The flu vaccine is also safe during pregnancy and can provide protective antibodies to the baby for several months after delivery.
OTHER WAYS TO STAY HEALTHY
In addition to getting your child(ren) vaccinated, stay away from people who are sick as much as possible during flu season. And, if your child(ren) get sick, avoid others as much as possible. Remember to teach them to cover their coughs and sneezes, wash their hands often, and avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth. As always, eat healthy, exercise, and sleep well.
Brian (The Doctor)